SATURDAY sees the start of the new Houldsworth Solicitors Ribblesdale Cricket League.
And Naeem Ashraf (pictured), the new skipper of champions Clitheroe, realises he has a mammoth task on his hands if the club are to compete for a place in the top half of the league, let alone challenge for the title they won last season!
The Chatburn Road side have lost key personnel over the winter, including title-winning skipper Peter Dibb to Lancashire League Nelson.
Ashraf said: “ We have lost four key players from last year’s team, and three of those batted in the top five.
“It is going to be a massive challenge for our young and relatively inexperienced batting line up.
“The few senior players that are in the team are really going to have to deliver the goods, week in, week out.
“The replacements for departed players will take at least a season or two to acclimatise to the pressures of Senior League cricket, having played all their cricket in Division One and Three previously.
“It will be a young side in the main, that hopefully will grow together and serve the club well in years to come.
“The experience of Josh Marquet and Farooq Butt in the bowling department, along with back up from some of the promoted younger players will hopefully allow us to be a threat with the ball.
“Clearly our major concern will be posting sufficient totals which will give our bowlers something to bowl at.”
Clitheroe open with a derby at home to Salesbury, who finished with the wooden spoon last time out in their first season in the Senior League.
New skipper Jason Rawson will not play on Saturday as he is running the London Marathon on Sunday, but he is excited about the challenges ahead.
The club are waiting on Sri Lankan professional Susantha Pradeep, are are likely to engage a substitute to face Clitheroe.
He said: “Preparations are going very well, we’re ready to go.
“It’s the wooden spoonists against the champions, but it’s a good test for a great set of lads, who are very tight - we all socialise together and learned a lot last season.
“There are a few experienced heads in with some youngsters, and we will have to step up to the mark and hopefully cause a few upsets.”
Whalley captain Richard Palmer is looking forward to seeing a familiar dressing room when the season starts.
The Station Road side haven’t undergone any sort of transformation over the winter break, retaining the services of professional Kamran Younas and keeping the 2010 squad in its entirety.
Palmer said: “Kamran was excellent for us with the ball last campaign and we hope for a bit more from him with the bat this year. Hopefully he’s learnt a bit about the responsibilities of being a professional now, knowing that he doesn’t have to go quite so gung-ho. We are very happy to have him back.”
The only change will see Simon Gorton make a return from injury so it’s as you were for Whalley.
“It’s nice to have a settled side,” Palmer said. “You look at other clubs who have their mercenary types, here today and gone tomorrow, which isn’t good for a club what-so-ever. We’ve looked at bringing players in but getting hold of good players tends to come at a price and it’s a price we’re not prepared to pay.
“We like stability here and we’ve got a committed bunch at Whalley which brings a good team spirit. How we fare this year depends on how many times we can get our best 11 out on the field. It doesn’t happen that often but I wouldn’t swap our strongest 11 for any other team in the league.”
And on their targets for the new season, Palmer added: “We will be going all out to defend our 20/20 title and all out for the Ramsbottom Cup. We will struggle to finish in the top two or three in the league for the reason mentioned before but if we finish higher than last season then we will be relatively satisfied.”
Elsewhere, former Read captain Chris Holt may have migrated from the Ribble Valley to replace Kashif Siddique as professional at Padiham but last year’s runners up have enticed a number of superstars for 2011.
The Whalley Road outfit have taken in Settle’s Stuart Hornby as professional while they’ve also tempted former Accrington professional Will Driver away from the Lancashire League as well as keeping hold of the indispensable Jon Harvey.
Skipper Warren Eastham said: “He’s a great all-rounder who played a number of years at Settle. He’s settled in very well and he’s a popular character who is a familiar figure in this league. We are expecting good things from him; he balls a good pace away swing, bats with a sensible head and accumulates runs. He will give us stability and he bats according to the situation.”
Read have also managed to make Read a much more attractive proposition than Colne in the eyes of Kyle O’Connor and Lancashire’s Oliver Newby has also vowed to play some part over the course of the campaign.
Eastham added: “It’s going to be a good season. There’s been mega hype surrounding what’s been happening at the club and how strong we are. Hopefully we’ll be able to win something this year. Last season we did ourselves an injustice by walking away with nothing because we had enough there to win it. We let ourselves down in the middle of the year, thinking we had enough in the tank to chase any total but sometimes that wasn’t the case.
“Maybe we didn’t respect the opposition enough. We had some pretty horrific batting collapses and we lost five on the bounce which isn’t championship-winning material. But we are a year older now and a year wiser.
“We’ve got to look to win the league and if we play to our full potential then I’m confident we can get something from the cup and 20/20 as well. I’d also like a decent run in the Lancashire Cup. I know we don’t have a divine right to win anything but if we play to our capabilities then we should be there or there abouts.”
Church Meadow skipper Ian Britcliffe has challenged his Ribblesdale Wanderers side to compete and remain focussed until the very last ball of the new season.
Wanderers had been championship contenders going in to the final month of the 2010 campaign, but they lost five consecutive matches at the hands of Read, Clitheroe, Earby, Edenfield and Cherry Tree, condemning them to an 11th place finish.
Britcliffe said: “We hope we can do what we did last year and compete which we did until the final three or four weeks of the season. We just capitulated and lost our final five games so we’re aiming to challenge all the way through.
“We kept ourselves involved in every game until the final over, won some games we maybe shouldn’t have done and lost some games we should have won. It was a good season but it was sad the way we finished.”
Wanderers have lost one of their leading amateur run scorers in Ryan Gladwin for the new campaign as well as wicket keeper Martin Peel. However, 22-year-old South-African Brannon Varley has joined the ranks while Pakistani cricketer Muhammad Majihuddin replaces Agha Sabir as pro.
l RIBBLESDALE Wanderers host junior coaching sessions from tomorrow from 6-15 p.m. to 7-45 p.m. for youngsters aged between eight and 15.
Contact Ian Britcliffe (07875164850) for more details.